The new field hospital which opened in Falmouth Trelawny just yesterday is already expected to be at full capacity by today as Jamaica continues to report record number of COVID-19 cases.
The island is slated to receive a shipment of 50,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine this afternoon as a gift from the people and Government of India to begin an ambitious vaccination programme, but even then the authorities are warning that the public health system is being heavily challenged.
Head of the Western Regional Health Authority Errol Greene yesterday told the Jamaica Observer that COVID-19-positive patients had already been assigned to every bed in the field hospital.
“We just opened a 36-bed field hospital in Falmouth and we are going to start putting in people tonight (Sunday) or no later than tomorrow morning (today), and already we are [at] full capacity,” said Green as he pointed to the impact that the spike in cases is having on personnel in the public health system.
“Would you believe if I tell you that on Friday seven doctors assigned to the Accident and Emergency Department at the Cornwall Regional Hospital came down with COVID-19 symptoms and had to be sent home?
“And then the doctor who has been our medical coordinator is also down, and he is the gentleman who would go and take charge,” added Green.
He noted, too, that the medical personnel and facilities have been dealing with COVID-19 cases for almost a year now and are fatigued and stressed.
“Jamaicans really need to start taking COVID-19 very serious. There is an advertisement that says 'the mask or the ventilator', but we don't have ventilators for everybody. We are doing our best under the circumstances, but this is a struggle,” lamented Green, who dismissed reports that Cornwall Regional Hospital was on the verge of running out of oxygen yesterday evening.
“We are very low, but we get deliveries every day, and as I speak to you two IGL trucks are on their way to the hospital — one with bulk and the other with cylinders. The issue is IGL used to deliver oxygen to us once or twice a week; now they have to be delivering every day. We are low, but not dangerously low,” said Green.
The hospital administrator was speaking with the Observer minutes after the Ministry of Health announced a 24-hour record of 723 positive cases from 2,640 tests, at a positivity rate of almost 36 per cent.
The ministry also reported that seven people had died from complications related to the virus in the previous 24 hours, with Jamaica having 11,039 active cases of which 31 individual were moderately ill and a further 31 critically ill.
Yesterday's number pushed Minister of Health Dr Christopher Tufton to take to social media to warn Jamaicans that more people are going to die if more effort is not made to follow the protocols in place to reduce the spread of the virus.
“Jamaican people will die. It's as simple as that,” said Tufton in his dire warning.
“It must sink in that 723 persons in one day, and more importantly over three out of every 10 persons tested are positive, means that corona is right across the length of our population.
“It must sink in that if you continue to have the parties, the drink-ups; if you continue to ignore the protocols around gatherings and you congregate and you don't wear the mask, then the chances of you getting the coronavirus are real and the probability is increasing. And when you get to the hospital, the chances of you getting a bed is going to become less and less.”
The health minister declared that that he was not trying to rid the Government of its responsibilities to deal with the virus, but argued that Jamaicans need to do more.
“The truth is we do not have enough policemen or soldiers to police every shop in Jamaica, to police every beach in Jamaica, to look over every single individual in this country, and it is downright unfair for persons to blame our public health officials, our public health teams, our doctors, and our nurses when they cannot get through at a hospital because they are there because they went to the party that they should not have gone to, or to the beach or the funeral that they should not have congregated at and have picked up the virus, and then they expect the Government or the public health system to solve the problem. And if we don't do it, we get cuss,” said Tufton.
The health minister argued that, while this latest spike would call for a total lockdown in other countries, the Government continues to maintain the decision that people need to work.
“We will continue to do what we must as a public health system, as a Government. We will work hard to provide the beds, to ensure that the doctors are alert, to ensure that you get triaged or looked after when you turn up, but the reality is there is so much and no more of us. There are so many beds and no more beyond a certain point, and, truthfully, it doesn't have to be this way, we don't have to have the overcrowding if we respect the protocols and take personal responsibility,” Tufton said.